ERS Charts of Note

Subscribe to get highlights from our current and past research, Monday through Friday, or see our privacy policy.
See also: Editors' Pick 2018: Best of Charts of Note gallery.


ICYMI... Smaller farms often rely on the principal operators and their spouses for labor, while larger farms rely on hired labor

Thursday, September 12, 2019

Farms of different sizes rely on different mixes of labor. During the 5 years encompassing 2013–2017, the principal operator and the operator’s spouse provided most of the labor hours (75 percent) used on small farms—those with annual gross cash farm income (GCFI) under $350,000. That share fell to 44 percent on midsize farms (GCFI between $350,000 and $999,999), 19 percent on large farms (GCFI between $1 million and $4,999,999), and 2 percent on very large farms (GCFI of $5 million or more). Large and very large farms relied most on hired labor, which provided 64 and 69 percent of the labor hours on those farms, respectively. By comparison, hired labor provided about 12 percent of labor hours on small farms and 39 percent on midsize farms. Small and midsized farms are more numerous, but account for less production overall. Overall, principal operators and their spouses provided 47 percent of the labor hours used on U.S. farms in 2013–17, while hired labor provided 35 percent, and other operators and other unpaid family labor provided another 9 percent of total hours, the same share as contract labor (workers employed by firms hired by the farm). Contract laborers were particularly important on very large farms, contributing over 27 percent of labor hours. This chart updates data found in the March 2018 ERS report, Three Decades of Consolidation in U.S. Agriculture. This Chart of Note was originally published April 15, 2019.

U.S. soybean production and value expected to fall in the 2019/20 marketing year

Wednesday, September 11, 2019

Following planting delays in the spring of 2019 caused by excessive wetness, the USDA resurveyed crop acreage in August to determine how much was actually completed by the end of July. As a result, a new estimate of expected acreage was also made. The new data revised the estimate of planted soybean acreage downward for the 2019/20 marketing year (September–August) to 76.7 million. This reflects a 14-percent decline from last year and an 8-year low. The decreased acreage and expectations of lower yields translates to a projected 19-percent decline in production relative to 2018/19. Soybean prices are also expected to be lower in 2019/20, partially driven by continued trade tensions with China and the increased amounts of unused soybean stocks held in storage. Soybean prices are projected to average $8.40 per bushel in 2019/20, 10 cents below a year earlier and nearly a dollar below 2017/18 levels. Expectations of reduced production, coupled with lower prices, are likely to put pressure on soybean farmer revenues. If the projections are realized, the expected farm value of the U.S. soybean crop would fall to its lowest level in 11 years, from $38.6 billion in 2018/19 to $31 billion in 2019/20. This chart appears in the ERS Oil Crops Outlook report released in August 2019.

ICYMI... Higher breastfeeding rates among WIC participants would yield health-related cost savings

Tuesday, September 10, 2019

USDA’s Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) encourages and supports breastfeeding among postpartum women participating in the program. Studies have found that breastfeeding confers a number of health benefits to both infant and mother. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends exclusive breastfeeding for about 6 months, followed by continued breastfeeding until at least 12 months of age as complementary foods are introduced. A recent ERS study estimated the potential cost savings to WIC households and/or their private and government health insurance providers if 90 percent of WIC infants in 2016 had been breastfed for 12 months (first 6 months exclusively). Cost savings were calculated based on estimated reductions in nine pediatric and five maternal diseases. ERS researchers found the estimated cost savings would total $9.1 billion. Three-quarters of the savings, $6.9 billion, is derived from reductions in early deaths of mothers and infants. Medical costs, including physician fees and hospital costs, account for $1.5 billion of the savings, and nonmedical costs, such as lost wages from missed work days due to maternal illness or caring for a sick infant, account for another $0.6 billion. The data for this chart appear in “Economic Implications of Increased Breastfeeding Rates in WIC” from ERS’s Amber Waves magazine, February 2019. This Chart of Note was originally published March 15, 2019.

Potential effects of climate change on agricultural productivity likely to vary by region

Monday, September 9, 2019

U.S. farm output since 1948 has grown by 170 percent. Increases in total factor productivity (TFP), measured as total output per unit of total input, accounted for more than 90 percent of that output growth. However, TFP growth rates fluctuate considerably year-to-year, mostly in response to adverse weather, which can lower productivity estimates. Recent ERS research modeled a future climate-change scenario with an average temperature increase of 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) and a 1-inch decrease in average annual precipitation. Results showed that the “TFP gap index”—the difference in total-factor productivity levels between the projected period (2030–40) and the reference period (2000–10)—varies by State. For some States, those climate changes fall within the range of what is historically observed, while for other States they do not, which accounts for regional variation. States in the latter category are projected to experience larger effects. The States experiencing the greatest impacts would include Louisiana and Mississippi in the Delta region; Rhode Island, Delaware, and Connecticut in the Northeast region; Missouri in the Corn Belt region; Florida in the Southeast region; North Dakota in the Northern Plains region; and Oklahoma in the Southern Plains region. This chart appears in the Amber Waves article, “Climate Change Likely to Have Uneven Impacts on Agricultural Productivity,” released August 2019.

Shifts in payments for the top five crop management practices in USDA’s Environmental Quality Incentives Program

Friday, September 6, 2019

USDA conservation programs provide nearly $6 billion annually for financial and technical assistance to support the adoption of conservation practices on U.S. farms. This conservation effort relies mainly on voluntary incentive programs. The largest single conservation program (in terms of budget) is the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP), which provides funding for the retirement of environmentally sensitive land. However, the largest share of conservation funding goes toward incentivizing conservation practices on lands that remain in production, or “working lands.” The Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) is one such program, which provides financial assistance to farmers who adopt or install conservation practices on land in agricultural production. EQIP expenditures for crop management practices focused on five categories of practices—conservation crop rotations, cover crops, nutrient management, terraces, and conservation tillage (residue management). Farmers who use cover crops grow a crop (often over the winter) that will be left in place as residue or incorporated into the soil to increase organic matter. Between 1998 and 2016, the share of EQIP expenditures going to nutrient management and terracing decreased, while the share of expenditures going to cover crops increased. This chart appears in the May 2019 ERS report Agricultural Resources and Environmental Indicators, 2019. Also see the August 2019 Amber Waves feature, “Conservation Trends in Agriculture Reflect Policy, Technology, and Other Factors.”

ICYMI... U.S. inventory of table-egg laying hens grew to its highest levels ever in 2018

Thursday, September 5, 2019

The United States produces close to 7.9 billion dozen table eggs per year, via a population of table-egg-laying hens numbering in the hundreds of million. Once trade and storage are accounted for, this amounts to nearly 279 eggs available per person annually. In 2015, an outbreak of Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza (HPAI) significantly reduced the Nation’s laying-hen inventories. After reaching a low point in June 2015, inventories began to recover and have since eclipsed previous record highs, reaching nearly 331 million in December 2018. Along with the rise in laying-hen numbers, egg-laying rates have also increased through genetic improvements, reaching over 79 eggs laid per 100 hens per day in December 2018. Currently, the capacity for daily production exceeds approximately 22 million dozen eggs. In 2019, USDA forecasts suggest egg production will reach 8 billion dozen with a domestic availability of 280 eggs per person. A version of this chart appears in the ERS Livestock, Dairy, and Poultry Outlook newsletter released in February 2019. This Chart of Note was originally published February 27, 2019.

Prevalence of food insecurity in 2018 was down from 2017

Wednesday, September 4, 2019

USDA’s Economic Research Service annually monitors the food security status of U.S. households. In 2018, an estimated 88.9 percent of U.S. households were food secure throughout the entire year, meaning they had access at all times to enough food for an active, healthy life for all household members. The remaining households (11.1 percent) were food insecure at least some time during the year, including 4.3 percent that experienced very low food security. In very-low-food-secure households, the food intake of one or more household members was reduced and their eating patterns were disrupted at times because the household lacked money and other resources for obtaining food. The prevalence of food insecurity overall declined from 11.8 percent in 2017. This change was statistically significant and continued a decline from a high of 14.9 percent in 2011. Very low food security was not significantly different from its 4.5-percent rate in 2017. This chart appears in the ERS report, Household Food Security in the United States in 2018, released September 4, 2019.

ICYMI... Rice producers in the southern United States increased adoption of hybrid and herbicide-tolerant seed varieties between 2006 and 2013

Tuesday, September 3, 2019

Data from USDA’s Agricultural Resource Management Survey of U.S. rice farms indicate that southern rice producers increased the planting of both hybrid and herbicide-tolerant seed between 2006 and 2013. Hybrid rice gained favor primarily because it is higher yielding than conventional rice. From 2006 to 2013, hybrid rice acreage increased in all major southern rice-producing regions. Herbicide-tolerant rice is bred to withstand applications of specific herbicides that kill targeted weeds, particularly “red rice” in the South. This feature allows producers to apply herbicides after both the rice and weeds have emerged, killing targeted weeds without harming the rice. Unlike other herbicide-tolerant crops, herbicide-tolerant rice varieties have been developed through traditional plant-breeding methods rather than genetic modification. From 2006 to 2013, herbicide-tolerant rice acreage increased from 27 to 57 percent of acres in the Arkansas Non-Delta, from 24 to 63 percent of acres in the Mississippi River Delta, and from 33 to 49 percent of acres in the Gulf Coast. These data appear in the ERS report, U.S. Rice Production in the New Millennium: Changes in Structure, Practices, and Costs. This Chart of Note was originally published December 10, 2018.

Farm sector profits forecast to increase in 2019

Friday, August 30, 2019

Inflation-adjusted U.S. net cash farm income is forecast to increase $5.8 billion (5.4 percent) to $112.6 billion in 2019, while U.S. net farm income (a broader measure of farm sector profitability that incorporates noncash items including changes in inventories, economic depreciation, and gross imputed rental income) is forecast to increase $2.5 billion (2.9 percent) from 2018 to $88.0 billion in 2019. The forecast increases are due to a combination of lower production expenses, which are subtracted out in the calculation of net income, as well as increases in government payments and farm-related income. These contributions are expected to more than offset the forecast decline in cash receipts. If forecast increases are realized, net farm income would be 2.3 percent below the 2000–18 average ($90.1 billion), but net cash farm income would be 4.0 percent above its 2000–18 average ($108.3 billion). Find additional information and analysis on ERS’s Farm Sector Income and Finances topic page, reflecting data released August 30, 2019.

ICYMI... U.S. shellfish availability more than doubled from 1970 to 2016

Thursday, August 29, 2019

Low in calories and saturated fat, and rich in omega-3 fatty acids, seafood is a nutrient-dense source of dietary protein. In 2016, 15 pounds per person of seafood products were available for consumption in the United States, an increase from 11.7 pounds per person in 1970. In 2016, the category with the greatest availability was fresh and frozen fish at 6 pounds per person, followed by fresh and frozen shellfish at 5.3 pounds per person, which more than doubled since 1970. These two seafood categories together accounted for 76 percent of fishery product availability in 2016. Fresh and frozen shellfish availability has steadily increased over the past four and a half decades, surpassing canned tuna in 1991. The third highest seafood product, canned tuna, fell to 2.1 pounds per person in 2016 after reaching almost 4 pounds per person in 1989. Availability of the remaining canned and cured seafood products was 1.6 pounds per person in recent years down from a high of 2.5 pounds per person in 1972. The data for this chart come from the Food Availability data series in ERS’s Food Availability (Per Capita) Data System. This Chart of Note was originally published May 10, 2019.

Decline in school lunch participation driven by drops in full- and reduced-price participation

Wednesday, August 28, 2019

On a typical school day in fiscal year 2018, 29.7 million children participated in USDA’s National School Lunch Program (NSLP), and USDA expenditures on the program totaled $13.8 billion for the year. These expenditures include cash reimbursements for meals served and the value of foods provided to schools by USDA. In return for the reimbursements and donated foods, schools must serve lunches that meet Federal nutrition requirements and offer these lunches to children from low-income families for free or at a reduced-price. Almost three-quarters (74 percent) of lunches were provided for free or at a reduced-price in 2018. Since 2001, free lunch participation has increased every year, from 12.9 million children in 2001 to 20.2 million in 2018. Over the same period, full-price lunch participation peaked at 12.6 million children in 2007, and reduced-price meal participation peaked at 3.2 million in 2009. Through 2011, overall NSLP participation increased, reaching a high of 31.8 million children, driven by growth in free-meal participation. Since then, declining participation of children receiving reduced- and full-price lunches has led to a drop in overall participation. A longer version of this chart (starting in 1970) appears in the Child Nutrition Programs: Charts topic page on the ERS website.

ICYMI... U.S. farmers adopting drought-tolerant corn about as quickly as they first adopted herbicide-tolerant and insect-tolerant varieties

Tuesday, August 27, 2019

Droughts are among the most frequent causes of crop yield losses, failures, and subsequent crop revenue losses across the world. Genetically engineered (GE) and non-GE drought tolerance became broadly available in corn varieties between 2011 and 2013. By 2016, 22 percent of total U.S. corn acreage was planted with DT varieties. To better understand this growth rate, ERS researchers compared it to the adoption of GE herbicide-tolerant (HT) and insect-resistant (Bt) corn. Between 1996 and 2000, HT corn acreage increased from 3 to 7 percent of total U.S. corn acreage, while Bt corn acreage increased from just over 1 percent to 19 percent. By 2012, nearly 75 percent of U.S. corn acres were planted to varieties with at least one GE trait. In 2016, 91 percent of DT corn fields also had HT or Bt traits. Some evidence suggests that these three traits are complementary. For example, a corn crop will generally be less vulnerable to drought if it is not competing with weeds for water, and if its roots and leaves are not damaged by insect pests. This chart appears in the January 2019 ERS report, Development, Adoption, and Management of Drought-Tolerant Corn in the United States. This Chart of Note was originally published March 21, 2019.

Share of Chinese soybean imports supplied by Brazil has increased; U.S. share has decreased

Monday, August 26, 2019

The United States and Brazil have accounted for most of the growth in world soybean exports, while China has been the world’s largest importer. In the 1990s, the United States was the predominant exporter of soybeans. During the late 1990s, both U.S. and Brazilian exports increased to supply China’s growing demand, but Brazilian exports grew more quickly. During the 1990s, the United States supplied more than 50 percent of China’s soybean imports, though the U.S. share gradually declined into the 2000s. Brazil’s share first matched that of the United States in 2002 when each country supplied about 35 percent of China’s soybean imports. From 2002 to 2011, each country’s share of China’s soybean imports fluctuated between 35 and 50 percent. Brazil’s share rose to almost 50 percent during 2012 to 2016 as the U.S. share fell to less than 40 percent. The U.S. share fell to 30 percent in 2017 as China’s tariff on U.S. soybeans took effect late in the market year. During the first 9 months of China’s 2018/19 market year, while the tariff took full effect, Brazil’s share rose to 77 percent, while the U.S. share fell to 10 percent. This chart appears in the ERS report, “Interdependence of China, United States, and Brazil in Soybean Trade,” released in June 2019.

Women account for an increasing share of hired farm workforce

Friday, August 23, 2019

Errata: On August 26, 2019, the chart’s vertical axis labels were adjusted to accurately align with their corresponding horizontal lines.

The share of women farmworkers fell during the Great Recession—from 18.7 percent in 2007 to 17.6 percent in 2009—as the nonfarm economy declined and more men moved into agriculture. As nonfarm job prospects improved, however, many men left agriculture and the share of women farmworkers recovered and continued growing steadily, reaching 25.0 percent in 2017. This rising share may have been facilitated in part by labor-saving technologies that decreased the physical burdens placed on farmworkers. As wages rose, some growers adopted mechanical aids, such as hydraulic platforms (which replace ladders in tree-fruit harvesting) and mobile conveyor belts (which reduce the distance heavy loads must be carried). These aids may have allowed more women and older workers to perform tasks historically performed by younger men. The average age of all farmworkers also rose from 36.2 years in 2007 to 38.8 years in 2017. This chart appears in the ERS topic page for Farm Labor, updated June 2019.

ICYMI... Since the burgeoning of the international avocado trade, U.S. avocado production is highest from April to July, when imports from Mexico abate somewhat

Thursday, August 22, 2019

Development of Mexico’s avocado export sector prompted many changes in the U.S. market. USDA initially banned imports of Mexican avocados from 1914 to 1993 to prevent entry of avocado seed weevils into the United States. With the implementation of a USDA phytosanitary work plan from 1993 to 2007 that allowed Hass avocados from certain municipalities in the Mexican State of Michoacán to enter progressively more U.S. States, deliveries from Mexico increased rapidly, reaching 781,000 metric tons (annual average) during 2015-17. Ready access to Mexican product—along with advertising campaigns for avocados in general and Mexican avocados in particular—led to a sharp increase in U.S. avocado consumption. Between 1991-93 and 2015-17, avocado deliveries (imports and domestic production) increased from 193,000 metric tons to 1.1 million metric tons (annual averages). In response to a dramatic increase in foreign competition, U.S. producers have focused mainly on supplying the domestic market in months when imports from Mexico tend to be lower. A new phytosanitary work plan implemented in 2016 allows fresh avocados to be imported from any Mexican State subject to a systems approach to risk management, consisting of a number of sequential safeguards designed to progressively reduce risk of avocado seed weevils to an insignificant level. This chart is drawn from data discussed in the ERS Fruit and Tree Nuts Outlook newsletter released in March 2018. This Chart of Note was originally published October 24, 2018.

Expanded SNAP benefits would raise Gross Domestic Product

Wednesday, August 21, 2019

Low-income participants in USDA’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) generally spend their benefits soon after receiving them. This spending by SNAP households “multiplies” throughout the U.S. economy as the businesses supplying the food and other goods purchased—and their employees—receive additional funds to make purchases of their own. A recent ERS study examined the multiplier effect of a hypothetical $1 billion increase in SNAP benefits. Most SNAP participants spend their own cash in addition to SNAP benefits to purchase adequate food. Thus, SNAP households would spend the full amount of the increased benefits, but would redirect some of the cash that they were spending on food at grocery stores to other goods or services. The study predicted that the $1 billion in additional SNAP benefits would raise SNAP households’ food spending by $300 million and their non-food spending by $700 million. This increased spending, combined with the subsequent multiplier-induced spending of both non-SNAP households and SNAP households ($538 million), would raise Gross Domestic Product (GDP) by $1.54 billion. This chart appears in the ERS report, The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and the Economy: New Estimates of the SNAP Multiplier, and the Amber Waves article, “Quantifying the Impact of SNAP Benefits on the U.S. Economy and Jobs,” released July 18, 2019.

ICYMI... Use of herbicide-tolerant seeds increased quickly following their commercialization, but plateaued in recent years

Tuesday, August 20, 2019

A genetically engineered (GE) plant has had DNA inserted into its genome using laboratory techniques. The first GE herbicide-tolerant (HT) crops, which can survive applications of herbicides like glyphosate or glufosinate that kill most other plants, were created by inserting genes from soil bacteria. Generally, the use of HT corn, cotton, and soybeans in the United States increased quickly following their commercialization in 1996. HT soybean use increased most rapidly, largely because weed resistance to herbicides called ALS inhibitors had developed in the 1980s. By comparison, HT corn use increased relatively slowly, perhaps because corn farmers could use the herbicide atrazine, an effective alternative to glyphosate that could not be applied to soybeans or cotton. The percent of acreage planted with HT corn, cotton, and soybeans has plateaued in recent years, partly because adoption rates for these seeds is already quite high and because weed resistance to glyphosate has continued to develop and spread. As the problems posed by glyphosate-resistant weeds intensify, crop varieties with new HT traits are being developed. For example, a new HT variety of soybeans that is tolerant of herbicides called HPPD inhibitors will be available to U.S. growers in 2019. This chart appears in the December 2018 Amber Waves data feature, “Trends in the Adoption of Genetically Engineered Corn, Cotton, and Soybeans.” This Chart of Note was originally published February 28, 2019.

USDA commodity-income support levels have increasingly varied since 2015

Monday, August 19, 2019

In the years leading up to 2015, USDA commodity-income support was predominantly from direct, unconditional payments, which paid farmers roughly the same amount each year. Although other conditional payment programs existed at the time, the rise in commodity market prices reduced the total amount of conditional payments paid by the U.S. Government. With mostly unconditional payment programs providing income support, payments remained reasonably constant across the years leading up to the 2014 farm bill. Under these unconditional programs, corn base acres received the largest amount of income support (larger than soybeans and wheat), in part because corn covered the largest number of acres. The 2014 farm bill created two new conditional programs called Agricultural Risk Coverage (ARC) and Price Loss Coverage (PLC). Under these programs, farmers receive commodity-crop income support only if revenues or prices fall below predetermined thresholds. The creation of ARC and PLC, in combination with a decline in prices from 2012 peaks, has increased the variability of payments in recent years. For example, in 2016, the combined expenses across these three crops and two programs was $6.6 billion. Just 2 years later in 2018, this number decreased by $4.7 billion to $1.8 billion. This chart appears in the August ERS Amber Waves article, “Changes in Commodity-Income Support Programs and Commodity Prices have Caused Increased Variability in Support Payments.”

China’s imports of whey products and lactose decline, and U.S. loses market share

Friday, August 16, 2019

Whey products and lactose are the top dairy products exported, by value, from the United States to China. China’s imports of whey products (dry whey, whey protein concentrate, whey protein isolate, and modified) and lactose have declined sharply in recent months. African Swine Flu (ASF)—a virus that has affected the country’s pig and hog population—may have affected the markets for these products because they can be fed to pigs and hogs. In addition to ASF, tariffs by China, in response to U.S. tariffs on certain imports from China, may have contributed to the decline in imports of whey products and lactose from the United States. The U.S. market share declined from 57 percent in 2017 to 51 percent in 2018 and to 38 percent for the first 5 months of 2019. The United States’ largest competitor in this market is the European Union. In the first 5 months of 2019, the European Union increased its market share to 42 percent, up from 36 percent in 2018 and 34 percent in 2017. This chart is drawn from discussions in the ERS Livestock, Dairy, and Poultry Outlook newsletter, released in July 2019.

ICYMI... Disability status can influence the risk of experiencing food insecurity

Thursday, August 15, 2019

Households with adult members who have a disability are at higher risk of experiencing food insecurity—having to struggle at some time during the year to provide enough food for all their members. U.S. households that included adults with disabilities who were not in the labor force due to disability had the highest food insecurity rate in 2017 at 32.3 percent, followed by households with working-age adults with disabilities not out of the labor force due to disability at 22.0 percent. Households with elderly adults with disabilities do not appear to have as great a risk for food insecurity. In 2017, 9.0 percent of these households were food insecure, a rate similar to that of households with no adults with disabilities. Elderly adults with disabilities may have developed their disabilities after their working years and have savings and/or more stable income sources, such as Social Security or pensions, than working-age adults with disabilities. Among all food-insecure households in 2017, 41 percent included an adult with a disability. A version of this chart appears in the ERS data visualization “Food insecurity and very low food security by education, employment, disability status, and SNAP participation.” This Chart of Note was originally published April 2, 2019.

Charts of Note header image for left nav